Opinion: Government and First Nations leaders must listen to urban Indigenous voices

The federal government is looking for input on how to better meet the needs of urban aboriginal people. Vancouver journalist Wawmeesh Hamilton says it's good the government is listening, but there needs to be a unified voice to be heard.
A dream catcher suspended in the air above an alley, near a homeless camp with Indigenous residents on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Wawmeesh Hamilton)

Canada's urban Aboriginal people need a voice. 

More than half of the country's Indigenous people live off-reserve, and this year the federal government asked for ideas to better serve them

The problem, says Vancouver journalist Wawmeesh Hamilton, is that even if the government is listening, there's no unified voice to hear them. 

Wawmeesh Hamilton. (Dan Toulgoet/Vancouver Courier)

Every day, Hamilton sees aboriginal men and women living on the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

But what he rarely sees are First Nations leaders serving those people. 

Who will advocate for them, he asks? And he notes, indigenous leaders get funding based on populations estimates that can include off-reserve residents, but the programs and advocacy tend to serve reserve residents. 

So Hamilton is calling for a new agency to be created — one that will speak on behalf of the Indigenous people living in Canadian cities, with an understanding of the challenges those urban lives can create.